I feel a rant coming on.

Designing a book cover is frustrating.
Because who the heck am I designing it for anyway?

Here's the problem arising for cover artists everywhere...

Do you make a book cover for the ten year old reader...or the ten year old's mother, who has the money?

You've all seen this scenario (perhaps even lived it):
Mom takes kid to bookshop. Kid gravitates immediately to the cartoonish/anime/graphic novel looking cover art. But mom favors the trendy kinda retro/magazine worthy/ graphic designy cover art. Mom says, "This one sounds good, honey," as she studies the beautiful font and adorable character design, having barely skimmed the description on the back. Kid holds up book with comic inspired cover. "I like this one," he says. "But you have lots of books just like that at home," mom replies. "Let's get this one! It looks interesting." Kid shakes his head and moves on but Mom doesn't put the book back on the shelf. Oh no. She carries it around with her as if it's a done deal. This conversation is repeated several times. Finally the kid has to make a decision: fight mom and leave the store empty handed, or just let her buy him the damned book she picked out.

Or perhaps you recall the library version:
Mom follows behind kids as they peruse the library shelves and surreptitiously sorts through their picks, putting back the ones with old-school or comic covers, and slipping in ones with trendily designed covers she likes best. I admit, I'm guilty of this one.

Here's the thing...it's a gnarly temptation for parents to control their kid's style. You don't want your kids to be all about popularity, but you've all had visions of raising truly "cool" kids. So you want them to like the cool music, the cool clothes, the cool bike, the cool hobbies, and the cool books.

Cool according to whom?
Yeah, you know the answer.
And you remember kids in your grade who were cool by "parent standards".

I have this argument with my brother who hates some of the movies his young daughters watch and tries to steer them toward the stuff he prefers. But here's the truth - in what universe does a grown man and a six year old girl have the same taste?

How can any reasonable adult expect a nine year old to have the same design preferences as a thirty five year old?

They'll like some of the stuff you like - but not all of it. Never all of it.

When I was redesigning the cover for my first book, Spark, I sketched out a few ideas and showed them to my test group which consists of nieces, nephews, and cousins of varying ages. The ones that are over twelve like the trendier graphic design. The younger kids honestly prefer the stuff that's more narrative. They want to see the story - not a clever, artsy representation of it.

So as an author who designs her own covers, what am I to do?
Market to my actual reader?
Or to the grownup who's paying for, and most likely ultimately choosing, the book?
The mainstream publishers are going all in on the graphic design lately and moms everywhere are just eating it up. But as an independent, I don't want to just sell books. I want to reach kids in the world where they live. I don't yet have the ability to create the covers I envision, but I get closer the more I practise and the more I interact with middle graders.

Yeah, I think I'll keep doing what I feel is right for me and for my readers,
and work toward having the artistic skill to match...

...and hope that there are some parents out there who actually let their kid pick the book.